Shadow victims of the mortgage crisis: renters

The Bush administration's announcement Tuesday that it would put the foreclosure process on hold for 30 days to rescue struggling homeowners came several weeks too late for Mike Salgado.

And he's not even a homeowner.

Salgado, 40, is one of many renters who have found themselves homeless after their cash-strapped landlords stopped making mortgage payments and their houses or apartment buildings were foreclosed upon.

The California Apartment Assn., the state's largest organization of rental property owners, estimates that as much as a quarter of all foreclosed single-family residences are occupied by renters. The number of renters ensnared in the foreclosure fiasco is even larger when duplexes and other multi-unit buildings are factored in.

And the evictions show no sign of abating. Total foreclosures of single-family homes statewide rose more than 400% to a record 31,676 in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, according to DataQuick Information Systems.

"It's definitely happening," said Phyllis Rockower, president of the 850-member Real Estate Investors Club of Los Angeles. "People e-mail me all the time with the saddest stories."

Rockower's own daughter is facing eviction from a rented home in Colorado. Eileen Bronchick, 39, said she received notice last month that the landlord of her town house had missed mortgage payments and that she might have to move if the property is foreclosed upon.

For many such people, this can mean even steeper rents because the wave of foreclosures has spurred greater demand for rental housing -- a blessing to landlords who don't have banks breathing down their necks.

Sixty percent of Los Angeles residents are already renters, according to the National Multi Housing Council, an industry group. That compares with a nationwide average of 32%.

State and local officials say that many evictions could be avoided if people knew the legal protections available to them. However, few lenders and property managers make such information available during the eviction process.

"The whole thing is terrifying," said Michaelyn Jones, general counsel to the Santa Monica Rent Control Board, which oversees some of California's toughest rent-control rules. "It's something a number of jurisdictions have been discussing because it's a growing problem."

Many now-foreclosed properties had been purchased by real estate speculators taking advantage of dirt-cheap loans, who rented the properties to tenants before falling behind on mortgage payments.

To help remedy the situation, the Bush administration and six major lenders said they would "pause" foreclosures for troubled homeowners. The plan, dubbed Project Lifeline, is intended to give lenders time to work out more-affordable terms for borrowers.

Delores Conway, director of USC's Casden Real Estate Economics Forecast, said it was difficult to measure the number of tenants affected by foreclosures because more people were renting directly from owners of houses and condos.

This "shadow market" of renters isn't being tracked by organizations that compile statistics on established rental properties, Conway said, adding that the number of such renters has grown in the Inland Empire.

Karen Fricke, executive director of the Apartment Assn. Greater Inland Empire, an organization of rental property owners, said it was no secret among landlords that many renters were getting caught up in the mortgage meltdown.

"I'm getting a lot of phone calls from members of our association saying they're going into foreclosure and asking what to do about their tenants," she said.

Salgado, who works as service manager for a San Bernardino boat dealer, returned to his rented Hesperia house Jan. 23 to find a notice from his property manager, Century 21 Fairway Realty, informing him that the property had been foreclosed upon.

The notice offered an "assistance check" in the amount of $1,250 if Salgado would agree to get out of the house by Feb. 5.

Featured Stories

CTnow is using Facebook comments on stories. To comment on ctnow.com articles, sign into Facebook and enter your comment in the field below. Comments will appear in your Facebook News Feed unless you choose otherwise. To report spam or abuse, click the X next to the comment. For guidelines on commenting, click here.

BUSINESS MIDDAY


BUSINESS MIDDAY

Business Midday Get daily business news sent directly to your inbox for free weekdays at 1 p.m.



SEE SAMPLE | SIGN IN
After signing in, click on your username at the top left of this screen and then on "My Newsletter Subscriptions."